Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spring Has Sprung!

Do you see what I see????

That's what I saw yesterday afternoon when I went to check on my little pots of dirt...if you look really close, you can see one - yes! - One little sproutlet! An itsy bitsy, teeny weeny Green Zebra Tomato Plant!

And the shocking thing - to me anyway - is that it was a seed in an envelope 6 days earlier! AND, it was a packet of seeds I had purchased LAST year, but never opened!

I always say, I usually do pretty good with outdoor plants, but houseplants I destroy nearly as soon as they arrive, so I always get nervous when I try to start seeds indoors. Will my black houseplant thumb mistake these "outdoor" sprouts for its victims? I hope not...I have a lot of little pots of dirt hanging around!

But 24 four hours later - exactly one week from planting half of my seeds - I came home to this....

Front row is Morning Sun - they are taking the lead! I can't believe they grew this fast in one day - I must have missed them yesterday.

Here's some new friends for Green Zebra...Steve will be happy. Looks like his Fox Cherry tomatoes are going strong!

A couple other tomatoes are starting to peep out, too, but I couldn't get a good enough shot.
This is the most remarkable one, though.
Hard to see, but there are two little greenish sprouts coming up, one in each of these two pots. Those are broccoli....that I planted Sunday. Four days ago!

I hope that's a good sign!

I can breathe a little sigh of relief now that some of the seeds have germinated. I always have that fear that I'll plant all these seeds and nothing will grow.

Now if I can just keep the cats away...

Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Come On, Spring!

It don't look like much.....yet.

But the season has begun!

And this year I seem to be more excited about the vegetable garden than ever. I think that's maybe because Grace is almost five, so when we're out in the yard she no longer demands my complete attention. She likes to go off on her own a bit and go on "treasure hunts" or work on her own "garden" ... both involve piles of rocks, a shovel and mud. And this year she even planted her own tray of flowers and food, although I'm not sure how those twelve watermelon plants are going to do in that one four-inch pot.

I started my seedlings March 18th, and pretty much finished them up today. Just about everything else has to be planted where it will grow - things like winter squash, zucchini, cucumbers don't transplant well for me, and of course root vegetables don't either. I even decided to keep a journal, especially since this year I, um, went a little overboard purchasing seeds!

So far, this is what I've got:

Tomatoes: Green Zebra (green, striped), Sungold Select (small, orange cherry variety), Striped Roman (really cool-looking! Red roma type with yellow striping), Fox Cherry Red (hubby's favorite), Hazelfield Farm (big red heirloom from Appalachia), Orange Flesh Purple Smudge (I can't even picture it...), Morning Sun (where'd THAT come from? Did I even buy those seeds?)

Peppers: Italian Pepperoncini, Jimmy Nardello Italian (sweet Italian pepper), Anaheim, Patio Red Marconi (these might end up in pots on the deck - they're like an Italian all-purpose sweet pepper, bright red when ripe), Cayenne chili peppers, good ol' California Wonder Bell, and eight - yes, eight - Jalapeno's!

Cruciferous: Cauliflower - Purple of Sicily, and Broccoli - George's Favorite Blend (my grandfather's name was George, so that's why I picked this one)

And I even started some of the herbs, although I usually have good luck throwing the seeds in a pot or the garden and forgetting about them. So far, Thai Sweet Basil, Lime Basil, Siam Queen Thai Basil (clove-scented, they say) and lots of Oregano. Two other Italian Sweet Basil's will once again be sown in a window box I keep on my deck as well as a couple rows in the garden. And finally, Summer Savory.

All that's left to do now is wait....

Meanwhile, here's a glance at gardens past....

"Memories....Light the corner of my mind...."

Herbs and peppers on the corner of the deck....

Hot cherry peppers and jalapenos after a summer rain....
"Misty, watercolor memories.....

The vegetable garden of 2008 - my first "real" one on a long time...tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, spaghetti squash, butternut, zucchini, summer squash and even a pumpkin (didn't make it, though)

"What's too painful to remember......

....We simply choose to-oooh fo-orget...."
Yes, 2008 was the ice storm, so 2009 we decided we should count our blessings that it didn't fall on us and take down the old maple...

Some of us were more upset about that than others...

Even Martha helped with the clean up...

In fact, it didn't cost us a thing to have it hauled away...Martha just ate it.


And as I was browsing through old garden photos, I came upon this one.

That's the one good thing about this time of year...everything is cleared out, so hopefully THIS YEAR we'll be able to maintain this area behind our garage!

So tell me, how does YOUR garden grow? :)

(P.S. Martha can be rented out - cheap! - if you have any major cleaning up to do!)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Our Life In Pets - A Tale of Two Newfoundlands

A long, long time an animal shelter far far away....

Well, no, it was Halloween 2008, and only about four miles from my house actually! Funny how fate steps in sometimes.....

It had been over three years, and although I knew I wanted another Newfoundland some day, I was not ready. In fact, I wasn't even thinking of it that day I clicked on the Worcester Animal Rescue League's website - I intended to just send an email to the director, offering to donate something, a television we had received as part of a furniture store promotion, for them to use or sell or raffle off. Of course, how can you not take a quick glance through the pets available for adoption! So I did, and the first photo was a Newfoundland named "Snowflake".

But was I ready?.....

In August of 2005, my daughter was 6 weeks old. Our beloved Newfoundland, Daisy, was the ideal family pet - she was obviously enamored of the new little person we had brought home, but Daisy maintained a respectful distance, never poking her nose where it didn't belong, showing the perfect balance of interest and indifference towards our new baby girl. She would wait patiently, without being told to, in the hall outside of Grace's room while I changed a diaper or put her down in her crib. During those 2:00 A.M. feedings, Daisy would yawn, stretch and come lay at my feet, and would be snoring away by the time we finished up and went back to bed. She proudly strutted along side me, never pulling or tugging at the leash, as I pushed the stroller up and down the street, and when people came over to see the new baby, Daisy patiently waited her turn, tag eternally wagging.

We had had her since puppyhood. In fact, she was the only "puppy" my husband, Steve, or I had ever owned. We had a four year old Great Pyrenees named Seiko at the time and felt it would be best not only to make dog #2 a female, but to get a puppy who would grow up in Seiko's shadow as opposed to coming into the house as an "equal" or potential challenger. Through word of mouth we found a breeder here in Massachusetts who just happened to have a litter due soon. We called back at the appointed time and sure enough, eight baby Newfoundland's had made their way into the world. When we first laid eyes on them, they looked more like chubby black guinea pigs, but one look at the nine adult Newfoundlands that called this 200-plus year old farm their home, including their bouncy, friendly mother, Starr King's China, and their massive and impressively confident father, Apogee's Dimitri of Starr King, and we couldn't write out our deposit check quick enough. Puppy #7-Girl would soon be ours, pending results of her heart check at 10 to 12 weeks.

We were invited back when the puppies were a bit older, but still not ready to go home. Due to the genetic predisposition for some large breed dogs to have heart problems, most breeders won't part with them at the usual six to eight weeks. Registered with the AKC, these puppies would go on to represent the breeder's kennel, be it in the show ring or in regular life, and a good breeder will insist that a puppy with any physical issues be spayed or neutered if they have anything less than perfection to offer the gene pool. Those tests, performed by a board certified cardiologist, can be inconclusive until the age of ten to twelve weeks, so we patiently waited. We visited the old yellow farmhouse once again, this time to frolic with a happy, and apparently healthy litter of eight week old Newfoundland puppies.

One of them, a puppy with a Lavender string around her neck, sat on my foot, chewed on my boot laces and then rolled over for a tummy rub. Ironically, she was also Puppy #7-Girl.
She was our's! And a few weeks later when we received the all-clear from the cardiologist, she came home. After debating between Molly and Ursa and several other names, we named her Daisy. And since "Swamp Thing" was on tv that day, her official registered name was Starr King's Swamp Daisy.

Daisy had personality to spare from the get-go. She was a little shell-shocked from the upheaval, and when we arrived home to be greeted by our neighbor's barking Pomeranian, she hid behind me, terrified. However, when 160-pound Seiko came outside for an introduction, she lit up as if to say "I don't know what the heck that little yapping thing is, but I know YOU! You're a DOG!" She took to him immediately, and he, being the good dog that he was, tolerated her until he realized several days later "Hey! I can PLAY with this thing!" Daisy, it turned out, loved cats and children and fetching and cuddling. She was housebroken in about two days, and made friends everywhere she went.
As she grew, we realized part of her sweetness was that little touch of insecurity, like when the electricity went out and she felt the need to sit in my lap. At 100-plus pounds. Or when she barked, particularly when someone was walking up the driveway...she gave it everything she had, her whole body flowing into that "AAAAHH-WOOOOOOO-WOOOOO-WOOOOOO!" She was very vocal, greeting you with either throaty but friendly growls, or a symphony of whining. She loved the outdoors...but not alone. She would go outside and 30 seconds later would be at the door, whining to come in. If we were outside and she was in, we were inevitably made aware of her dissatisfaction by her plaintive howls. She was lazy, much preferring rides in the car to long walks, she disliked the cold, disliked the extreme heat - she could not sleep without the air conditioner on in the summer, and would sit in front of it, willing it to suddenly roar to life on hot days. She ate her food, then pushed Seiko out of the way to finish his food for him. She slept on her back with four paws in the air. She snored. She was afraid of "people on wheels", bicycles, skateboards, wheelchairs. She loved cats and children and holding her leash in her mouth while you took her...or maybe, she took YOU... for a walk. And while most Newfoundlands are instinctively attracted to water and swimming, Daisy's idea of water rescue was to drink the lake so the drowning person could get up and walk to shore.

But she was sweet, loyal, loving and had a personality that always made you smile. Even when you were miserable at work, or you began to feel fat and ugly, or destined to be childless, or your mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, or you watched as the families of six fallen firefighters mourned them, and eventually buried them. I could not look at Daisy without smiling. Her goofy, lovable attitude was contagious! She was the definition of unconditional love.

Daisy, October 2004

After the initial shock, several years later, of finding out I was pregnant, we started to think of practical things, like work schedules, and whose insurance plan we should go on and, oh yeah, guess we should get married, huh? When it came time to the pets, we were more apprehensive about the new dog, Merlin, and the three spoiled rotten cats, Max, Elsa And Wally, than we were Daisy. We did not know Merlin well, but Daisy was like a soulmate and a nanny, and we trusted her implicitly with all things great or small. She had adopted Max when he came to us as an orphaned kitten, and you could see the pride in her as she licked him and nudged him and wagged her tail so he could amuse himself by chasing it. We knew Daisy was getting older, but I envisioned my old, gentle, wise Newfoundland and a young toddler, just learning to walk, being the best of friends. There wasn't a better dog to be a child's first dog than Daisy. We looked forward to those days.

Saturday, August 13th, 2005, started out normal. Steve's birthday was the following day, but he had to work so we were celebrating that night with steaks, baked potato, corn on the cob and for dessert, his favorite, Duncan Hines Fudge Marble Cake with Betty Crocker Chocolate Frosting. Even the dogs, Daisy and Merlin, got a treat - ground beef and brown rice - for we always liked to include our pets in our family celebrations. Funny thing was, though, that Daisy took one nibble, then just stood there looking at her bowl. Very strange for her. But she wasn't acting sick or anything, so we just figured she wasn't in the mood for hamburger and rice.

But the next morning, I became increasingly worried. As I doled out two scoops of dry kibble for each dog, Daisy trotted happily to her bowl, sniffed, looked at me and walked away. I had saved some of the beef and rice from the night before so I warmed it and added it to her bowl. She would not eat it. While she did not exhibit signs of illness, I began to grow paranoid. We live at the corner of a somewhat busy street, and while I totally trusted my neighbors, the fear that a stranger had thrown something into the yard - something toxic - began to grow. On that hot and humid August day, I wrapped Grace in a light cotton blanket and went out into the yard to look for evidence. Of course there was nothing.

Daisy still showed no signs of illness, other than loss of appetite, when Monday morning came but she still wouldn't eat so I called the vet. They heard the worry in my voice, and squeezed in an appointment that afternoon. We were relieved, expecting that perhaps tests would show some sort of parasite, maybe? Or very worst case scenario, a mild blockage of sorts. Something curable.

We were wrong.

Within two minutes of greeting us in the examination room, the kindly, female veterinarian, a new mom herself, sadly nodded her head as she listened to Daisy's heart. It didn't take a battery of tests to determine the diagnoses: dilated cardiomyopathy. Basically, an enlarged heart, resulting in poor circulation. The loss of appetite was part of a vicious cycle - since she wasn't eating or drinking, Daisy was becoming dehydrated, and therefore her circulation was getting poorer, resulting in her feeling worse and an increased loss of appetite. Heart condition aside, Daisy was going to starve to death and her other organs would start to fail if we didn't get her to eat.

At first, it wasn't all bleak. The vet said with medication, she would feel better, eat and drink, and we could conceivably have another ten months with her, living a good quality of life. She suggested blood work, to make sure she didn't have anything else going on, as well as perhaps and ultrasound to see if there was anything physical that might be contributing to her illness. They drew the blood, and we scheduled an appointment for the ultrasound for the very next day.

Tuesday morning rolled around, and as usual I was up early with the baby. I cooked a chicken breast for Daisy, and while she seemed excited at first, she just sniffed and walked away. When the clock struck nine, I called the vet to see if they had the results of the bloodwork.

It was not good.

"Unfortunately, Daisy is not a candidate for the heart meds. There's something going on with her liver..."

I grappled with this, having lost my cat, Sabrina to some obscure, never actually diagnosed liver this day, they refer to it as "The Sabrina Syndrome".

The vet continued..."Why don't you bring her in. We can still do the ultrasound, or maybe even an x-ray to see if there's anything we might have missed. Anything physical."

Turns out, her liver was enlarged, and our last hope of perhaps finding some sort of scar tissue on her heart, a faulty valve or a tumor - all scary, but potentially operable - went down the toilet. It was DCM and only DCM, and her organs were indeed beginning to shut down. If we could get some food into her, we could get at best another two weeks. The drugs that would have extended her life would now destroy her liver in its fragile state and kill her.

Wednesday we knew it was inevitable. Daisy had not eaten a thing. Not steak or tuna or ice cream. And now she was beginning to look sick, beginning to get weak. She could no longer walk up or down stairs, and needed help getting up. Steve had taken to sleeping downstairs with her. That night, I patted Daisy goodnight, put Grace in her crib and fell into bed, emotionally exhausted, hoping to catch a few hours sleep. And after crying myself to sleep, I drifted off.

I had a dream. I dreamed that Daisy, like she had done pretty much every night since she earned the right to roam free in the house, flung open the bedroom door with her nose, trudged into the room and like so many times before, sniffed my face before settling down on the floor next to my side of the bed. I felt the real-life tears well up inside me, and I fought them, wanting to stay asleep and enjoy this beautiful dream of my dying dog. And then, in a flash of realization, I felt panting on my face just before Daisy greeted me with big lick to my cheek! It was no dream! She had indeed dragged herself up the stairs to resume her normal sleeping position on the floor next to our bed!

I jumped up and ran downstairs to tell Steve. He was thrilled, and grabbed his blanket and pillow and came upstairs. Relief flooded our hearts, as maybe, just maybe, the doctor had been wrong. Maybe she was feeling better. Maybe her circulation had improved and her heart was maybe...less enlarged. We would call the vet the next day to report the wonderful news! We slept soundly for the first time in days.

The next morning, my baby began to stir so I crept out of bed. At some point, Daisy had moved to the cool tile of the bathroom floor, which was not at all uncommon. I gave her a smile and a quick pat and then my heart came crashing down again. Her hind legs were splayed outward at uncomfortable angles. No telling how long she had been there, but it was obvious she could not stand on her own. I helped her up, and walked her into our room, a towel holding her up as she could not stand or walk on her own, and fetched her a bowl of water. She lapped at it, but was obviously tired and stressed. I realized why she had made the journey up that flight of stairs to see me. It was to say goodbye.

After the baby was nursed and dressed and placed in the safety of her baby swing, Steve and I helped Daisy downstairs, something that was painfully difficult for her. We called the vet and scheduled an appointment for the next day, Thursday, August 19th, at 11:00 AM. The receptionist who took my call kindly and professionally explained the procedure and our options. We could drop her off, if we preferred, for some pet owners simply cannot bring themselves to be in the room when their dog or cat is euthanized. We had been through this before so I kindly told her we had to be with her. Then she explained that her remains could be disposed of, or we could make arrangements to have Angelview, the pet crematory and cemetary, come pick her up and return her ashes to us via UPS. No thank you, I said, we would take her with us when it was done. Once again, we have been through this before. It was a part of our healing to show our respect and devotion right until the very end.

We cried. Even Merlin, our relative newcomer, seemed to know what was going on. Learning from past mistakes, we took photographs of Daisy, to have something to remember her by.
Max and Daisy, August 17, 2005

The next morning, we arrived, struggling to keep our emotions in check. The receptionist had the paperwork ready for our signature. She explained that there would be no need to come wait in line to pay the fee, they would, as was customary for euthanasia, simply mail us a bill. The ride had been difficult for Daisy and she could not stand. The sweet receptionist punched a few keys on the phone, spoke softly into the mouthpiece and within a few seconds four technicians trotted out with a stretcher, lifted our dog onto it and carried her into the examination room.

So many tears. My husband has seen during his career a thousand people dead or dying, and rarely shed a tear. He had literally sifted through the rubble of a tragic fire, finding pieces of bone and teeth of men he knew and worked with. He had been present when the body of a missing child was found under the ice in the western part of Massachusetts, after days of searching for her. But through all of those events, he never cried the way he did at the animal hospital that day. And although I had just told my doctor at my six-week post partum check up, "Nope! Not a sign of depression or baby blues at all!", the floodgates opened as Daisy silently slipped away, and I cried like I had never cried before. Even the vet, and the tough-as-nails technician, struggled to hold back tears. Being a man, Steve felt he needed to go take care of the bill as they prepared Daisy's body to be loaded into our car for the ride to the pet crematory. I numbly followed him, and I know this sounds weird, but I was so comforted when I saw that the receptionist was drying her eyes, too. For nearly nine years, the staff had tended to our pets, and the "people with the big white dog and the big black dog" were no strangers to them. It was a comfort to know they loved our Daisy, too. I felt sorry for all those who had never had the opportunity to meet her. We finished what needed to be done, endured yet another wave of tears at Angelview, and returned to a seemingly empty house. Yes, even though we had a beautiful new baby, a big white dog and three cats. The house felt cold and empty.

I saw about four Newfies over the next couple of years, and cried every time. It got to be a joke of sorts - we'd run into a Newfie and her owner at the pet store, and as my husband rolled his eyes, I'd be on my knees, arms wrapped around the neck of a bewildered but patient Newf, sobbing into her fur as the owner awkwardly tugged at the leash. I didn't think I could ever own another one. Daisy had been too special.

But then came "Snowflake".....

(This phot0 is entitled "Snowflake Marla Martha in The Back Yard"....or simply, "DUH")

Turns out, Snowflake's photo had been posted minutes before I coincidentally clicked on the "Dogs Available for Adoption" link. I called Steve. He called me back twenty minutes later, after taking a ride to the shelter.

"You're gonna want to take her"

Snowflake had been a stray, and had been at the shelter for over a month. Finally, with no luck locating an owner, they spayed her, let her recover and placed her on the available list. I fell in love with her not because she reminded me of Daisy, but because she was so different from Daisy! Daisy, as goofy as she was, had an air of dignity around her. Snowflake? Snowflake was hyper, crazy, stupid, happy from the moment I saw her. The differences between her and Daisy made me really consider taking her home.

Was I ready for another Newfoundland?

To be honest, I still wasn't totally sure when on Halloween, we brought her home.

And somewhere in doggie heaven, Daisy is laughing.

"I never did that!" Ah, sweet Daisy! Some day I shall tell them about the Sunflower Saga....

Meanwhile, Martha (named after the talking dog in PBS' show, "Martha Speaks"), has endeared herself to us. No, Daisy never ate our dinner, and with the exception of her puppy-teething years, was not destructive in any way, shape or form. Daisy trotted happily to greet you when you walked in the door, she didn't gallop at you full speed, knocking over chairs and children in her wake. Daisy never charged at the television set at a dog in a commercial, nor did she ever crash head first into the sliding glass door. Daisy didn't eat...everything. Martha sleeps downstairs, barricaded in the hallway, because she not only EATS EVERYTHING, she has a tendency to wake up in the middle of the night and pounce on you as you sleep.

But as our daughter grew, Martha calmed down. She still makes me crazy with the disasters that seem to follow her around, but I can handle a bit of destructive behavior when it's accompanied by the undying devotion Martha has shown towards Grace.

I guess we ended up realizing those visions of Newf and child after all.

So, a couple weeks ago we noticed that Martha's fur had gotten out of control. You see, unlike Daisy, Martha thinks grooming is a game and she won't stand still for it very long.
So, we decided to take her to the groomers. The mats in her fur were insurmountable to the average pet owners, so we agree to let the groomer pretty much shave her down, leaving just about an inch of coat. She came home looking like a Labrador Retriever on steroids.

Once again, I found comfort in knowing this was NOT Daisy!

They did leave a "poof" at the tip of her tail, though!

No, not Daisy.....
...but we love her just the same. :)